While United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday (27) that Israel may have committed war crimes by bombing Gaza during the latest conflict against the Islamic group Hamas, Brazil’s official position is that opposition to the creation of an international investigation into possible violations.
The statements were made during a session of the UN Human Rights Council, convened on an extraordinary basis hours before the ceasefire that ended the phase of hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. The meeting discusses a resolution presented by Pakistan, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the Palestinian delegation to the Council.
According to Bachelet, his office has seen the deaths of 270 Palestinians in Gaza, including 68 children, and 10 people in Israel, in addition to the hundreds injured. In his assessment, while the Israeli Armed Forces took precautions such as early warnings of air strikes that destroyed entire buildings in residential regions, the offensive raises serious concerns about compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality in international humanitarian law.
“If considered indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians, such attacks could constitute war crimes,” said Bachelet, adding that the initial investigation found no evidence that all targets were buildings used by Hamas leaders or for military purposes, such as claims Israel.
As for the rockets launched against Israel, the high commissioner said that, due to the fact that the projectiles had indiscriminate targets and were unable to distinguish between military and civilian targets, each of them – more than 4,400, according to Israeli officials – constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
In her speech, the representative of Brazil on the Council, Ambassador Maria Luisa Escorel, said that the country will not support the proposal to open international research. According to her, the measure is not capable of contributing to sustain peace and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
Escorel expressed “deep concern” about the escalation of violence and deplored the tragic loss of civilian lives. He also celebrated the ceasefire as “an important and necessary step” to prevent further episodes of violence and called on both sides to stick to respecting international law.
The ambassador’s speech also reflected the pro-Israel stance of the government of Jair Bolsonaro (without a party), by giving different weight to the role played by the parties involved in the 11-day conflict. Escorel said that Brazil condemns “in the strongest terms the rocket launches from Gaza against the Israeli population by Hamas and other militant groups”.
In mentioning Israel’s military action, however, the ambassador was more subdued. He said civilian deaths and damage to infrastructure in the Palestinian territory “are of utmost concern” and called on Israeli forces “to exercise utmost caution while exercising their right of self-defense”.
According to the ambassador, Brazil “strongly supports all diplomatic efforts towards a long-term agreement that accommodates the legitimate concerns of both sides”.
Hamas began firing rockets on the 10th in retaliation for what it called Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan, sacred to Muslims. The attacks came after a series of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian groups at the Al-Aqsa mosque and a first-instance court decision that could expel Palestinian families from a disputed East Jerusalem neighborhood since it was annexed by Israel in 1967. In response, the Israeli Armed Forces began to bomb Gaza.
The streak of violence is the most serious since 2014. The last major clash lasted 51 days and devastated the Gaza Strip, causing the deaths of at least 2,251 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers.
The current conflict also served as a fuel to intensify internal hostilities in Israeli cities that were previously seen as symbols of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. There have been hundreds of arrests, and local authorities have enacted states of emergency and curfews. In addition, there were signs of revolt against Israel among the Arab population in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan, which raised fears that the conflict would destabilize the entire Middle East – which it did not.